Many years ago I worked for a large German company. At one point I met a director of the company, a remarkably young man who was the Director of Long Range Planning. I asked him “Herr Doktor Direktor, how long is “long range”. He replied, “About three weeks.”.

James Joyner summarizes the present mood pretty well:

Militarily, we could sustain a smaller force in Iraq for years, barring a major war elsewhere. Politically, though, neither the public nor the political class has the stomach for another five years.

We’re going to have to learn. Note that none of the first-tier candidates in either party are running on a policy of withdrawing our forces completely from Iraq. Here’s how I think events are going to unfold. I think that whatever form Gen. Petraeus’s report takes he and Ambassador Crocker will report that the U. S. and Iraqi military in Iraq have improved security somewhat there and that the Iraqi Army is developing slowly but that development within the Iraqi government is slow to nonexistent. There will be lots of posturing on all sides and some symbolic attempts at withdrawing support for the military presence in Iraq from the Congress. The Surge will continue.

Starting in the spring we’ll begin to withdraw some troops and the withdrawals will continue through the summer. Col. Pat Lang has suggested that a tranche strategy, similar to the one used in Viet Nam, will be used in the withdrawal. He knows more about it than I do but I do believe that the military and political realities require some withdrawal.

I think that we’ll withdraw something like half of the present forces to, perhaps, 80,000 and I think that, barring some catastrophe, we’ll have a sizeable force in Iraq for the foreseeable future. This will continue into the next administration, whoever that may be. The simple reason for this is that nobody really knows what else to do.

Don’t confuse this prognostication with my preference. It isn’t even my third choice. It’s just what I think will happen.


Although the ostensible purpose of the surge might have been to creat political space for the Iraqi government to get its act together it’s main political effect may have been to create a political space for action by the U. S. government:

The key question is how Bush will use his new political breathing space. The president, returning today from an economic summit in Sydney, plans to lay out his plans for Iraq in an address to the nation, probably on Thursday night, administration officials said yesterday. It will follow the Capitol Hill testimony Monday and Tuesday of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker on security and political progress in Iraq. But Bush is already dropping hints that he wants to move to a smaller footprint in Iraq. Just how fast that transition would be is far from clear.

3 comments… add one
  • You may well be right. And, indeed, the “nobody really knows what else to do” pretty much captures my own situation.

    Still, I wonder if Congress won’t force the next administration’s hand into precipitous withdrawal. The daily reports of bombings and casualties has already worn the public thin and the sense that there’s no solution to Iraq’s political crisis in sight has killed the spirit of all but the hardiest of war supporters.

  • I really don’t think so, James. My view is that nobody wants to take responsibility for the enormous downside risk and they’re willing to allow events to take their course to that end. That’s the bureaucratic reaction and we’ve got a lot of bureaucrats in the Congress, not a lot of entrepeneurs or revolutionaries.

  • Tom Strong Link

    My sense of this is rather cynical: if the next president is Republican, Congress will force a complete withdrawal. If the next president is Democratic, Congress won’t (at least until the Republicans win back one or both houses in 2010 or 2012).

    As long as we continue to see long-term military actions waged primarily by the executive branch, without clear-cut definitions of victory or terms of withdrawal, I expect this will continue to be the case.

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